The world is getting better!
I got part way through FACTFULNESS, the extremely interesting new book (new-ish) by Hans Rosling and found that I had to stop reading. He was shattering some of my constructs. Most of them, actually.
My constructs don’t shatter easily (thus my stopping the process by stopping reading). My constructs are hard-won. We all have them and those that are hard-won, earned with scarring and blood-loss, are not easy to let go of.
But, of course, it is our constructs that stop us from learning and keep us experiencing everything through the same thought and belief systems we formed before the new facts were presented. To have even a passing chance at learning, one must LET GO of one’s constructs. Now and then, anyway. Gotta keep ’em close but don’t hold on tight. So many constructs serve us very well that we do not know which ones to let go of. Or even how to loosen our grip a bit.
For instance: a very simple construct (belief) is that green light means GO and a red one means STOP. Chucking that construct can seemingly lead to problems right? But, it was one I had to let go of rather quickly while ‘scootering’ in Thailand a few years back. The street was a mass of scooters and I was in the middle of the pack. We were approaching an intersection at hell-bent speed when the light ahead went to red. My instinct was to slow and then stop. Nobody else’s was. They just carried on and gave the light no notice. Had I slowed and stopped, Sal and I might have had a typical scooter accident in Chiang Mai. Letting that ‘stop-light’ construct go – because of immediate evidence all around me to the contrary – was a rapid-learning experience. “Hmmmm……red lights do NOT always mean stop….who knew?”
And that is what a construct is: a simple pattern, belief, process designed by yourself to save you from having to re-think everything every time. Call it habit, beliefs, protocols or just plain rigid-thinking, it has it’s place. I rarely walk into the women’s washroom, for instance. That’s a good thing. I drive on busy streets in almost an unconscious ‘learned-skill-pattern’ so that I can have the ‘brain-space’ to consciously react as traffic does what traffic does. It’s a form of training.
But it is also a way to NOT THINK and we apply our constructs in everything, not just physical or reactionary situations where thinking-time saved might translate into a life saved (like traffic). We have political constructs, world-view constructs and, of course, human behaviour constructs. And those are not always right and, in a rapidly changing world, they are increasingly wrong.
Put it this way: if you were an American and Abraham Lincoln was the president, you might vote republican and be proud to say you did. If you were an American in between 2008 and 2016, you might have voted for Obama and been proud to say you did. In effect, you were voting differently for people and parties who were ‘doing the right thing’ for their time but, if you had formed a political-party construct that was ironclad, then you could NOT free yourself to vote your values, you would, instead, vote your party. Your habit would rule, NOT your brain. The ‘new facts of the situation’ would not allow your construct to be altered. You would have found yourself voting for John McCain instead of Obama because of your ‘I am a Republican’ habit construct.
Which is fine, I suppose. Freedom of choice and all that. But Rosling posits that, with all the ‘new knowledge’ available to us, we should regularly review our constructs. Of course, Rosling does’t say much about politics (that was my application). Instead, he seems more interested in economics and social ‘beliefs’.
For instance, we in the first world, believe there is a first world and there is a third world and, God Knows, there is a second, developing world that is in transition from third to first. We think there is, anyway. First world are the rich countries. Third are the dirt poor and the second, developing world is kind of a vague, ambiguous list of countries that have Toyota Landcruisers and cell phones and we haven’t a clue who to include in that list.
Turns out that construct is old. That is a WW2 era thinking….maybe even earlier. The FACTS are that there are really FOUR worlds and all of them are closer than we were lead to believe when we built our construct/belief systems back in grade school. Simply put: first world people (Canada, Britain, USA) are NOT all that far ahead of second world countries and, in some cases, the #2’s are gaining so fast that our first world relativity is about to be overtaken (China, Singapore). Furthermore, the rest of the world does NOT live in dirt huts, herd goats and chew betel nut anymore.
Turns out 80% of the world has enough to eat, has a cell phone, the babies don’t die and the kids get an education. There are still ‘starving children’ in some places and health care is wanting (even in Canada) and the problems still exist but the facts are that the world is much better off, the poor especially so, and the richer nations are progressing slower than are the ones catching up.
And, on and on he goes. “Don’t worry, be happy!”
Rosling says that the ‘myths’ and beliefs we hold about the state of the world are all wrong. He suggests factfulness. Get the facts. Learn ’em. Change your mind as the information changes. Stay out of the wrong washroom but, otherwise, be OPEN to learning. And learn by facts!
Ironic, don’t you think? Just as Rosling presents FACTFULNESS as the cure for what ails us, some are presenting the exact opposite. “We have alt-facts and we intend to cure what ails us by way of getting rid of the real facts!”
To be fair to the proselytizers for ignorance, even Rosling admits that a fact one day might be proven untrue the next. So, his answer is to be skeptical, have an open mind, be curious and question everything.
I have also noticed that some of the ‘facts’ that Rosling bases his optimistic statements on are somewhat suspect or, at least, worth examining more closely but that is still consistent with his instruction to question and be skeptical. Rosling, I think, put a simple, smart concept regarding thinking into a simple, smart book that is easy to understand. He said out loud what many were thinking….but hadn’t put into words. That’s great!
But what does that do to my constructs? Is the world still going to Hell in a handbasket? Or not?